Climate change: India is not doing enough to put its own house in order
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Climate change: India is not doing enough to put its own house in order

We have both the resources and technologies to set this crisis right; only the political will to do so remains.

opinion Updated: Nov 22, 2017 12:48 IST
Environmentalist march close to the Hambach lignite open pit mine near Elsdorf, Germany, on November 5, 2017, as they protest against fossil-based energies like coal, having negative impact on the climate change(AFP)

Every annual UN climate conference of parties (COP, or countries) ends on an identical note. There is an inching towards measures that may reduce the catastrophic consequences of runaway climate change; sometimes, it is one step forward and two steps back.

That was what transpired in Bonn last week, where procedural decisions taken at the major conclave in Paris in 2015 were renegotiated. Contentious issues included the steps that industrial countries needed to take before 2020, as they were required to do under a UN protocol and how countries would be monitored for their voluntary reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

There was rhetoric regarding keeping the average global temperatures from rising by 2 degrees, if not 1.5 degrees. However, even if all the present commitments are observed, it will not prevent the world from crossing that threshold and experience terrible changes – hot and cold spells, storms, droughts and floods, all of which are already making their presence felt in country after country.

The UN negotiations may appear like countries rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but they still remain the best chance the world has to save itself. There are two threats to the future of the planet: The first is a nuclear holocaust which, despite a trigger-happy US president, remains in the realm of the possible. The second is irreversible climate change, which – for the first time in human history – affects all countries, rich and poor. This is the Anthropocene, the age when humans risk extinction by their impact on the earth’s environment. Unless the world acts decisively to cut carbon emissions to halt warming, there is no escape from this “unthinkable”.

There are two issues that underpin the negotiations. The first, as in all multilateral agreements, is to follow the money. At what was predicted to be a decisive UN meet in Copenhagen in 2009 but turned out to be a whimper, industrial countries pledged to provide the Green Climate Fund (GCF) $100 billion a year for developing countries to cope with climate change. By May this year, only $10.3 billion had been pledged, with only three years left. The European Union, Japan, United Kingdom, France and Germany have promised over $1 billion each.

Former US President Barack Obama had pledged $3 billion, but the US has committed only a third so far and his successor has cancelled further payments. Donald Trump has scoffed at providing “billions and billions and billions” to poor countries as “another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the US through the so-called Green Climate Fund”. But on a per capita basis, the US ranks 11th among the 45 contributing countries, and as a proportion of GDP, it figures ranks 32nd. What is more, it is less than the $4.7 billion a year of federal government subsidies to fossil fuel production.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, comprising 35 richest countries) put the cat among the pigeons last year by claiming that the financial flows as aid to developing countries had already reached $66.8 billion a year. This was sleight of hand to include private investments as well, whereas India and China, as “Like-Minded Developing Countries” in the UN parleys, have insisted that contributions to the fund should be new and additional infusions to ongoing development aid and not include flows through capital markets, in particular pension funds and other institutional investors that control trillions of dollars that pass through Wall Street and other financial centres.

The second issue, closely linked to the first, is technology to help poor countries tackle global warming. India, among others, has complained the aid estimates have been massively inflated by items like private loans to buy green technology from developed nations which resemble ordinary commercial transactions rather than foreign assistance. Here lies an opportunity: China is already the world leader in renewables and India has made a bid for its place in the sun by spearheading the International Solar Alliance, which it formed with France in Paris two years ago. It can provide solar technologies to some 120 countries, which lie between the two tropics by undercutting western manufacturers. Prices of solar power have dipped to Rs 2.44 a unit in the country.

While holding rich countries accountable for causing climate change, India has to put its own house in order, as the air pollution crisis in north India reminds us. For decades, it hasn’t tacked indoor pollution caused by smoky chulhas, which expose women and children to respiratory illnesses and carcinogens right in their very homes. We have both the resources and technologies to set this crisis right; only the political will to do so remains.

Darryl D’Monte is chairman emeritus, Forum of Environmental Journalists in India

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 12:48 IST